(1998) "Code-Switching in a Bilingual History Lesson: The Mother Tongue as a Conversational Lubricant". International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 1:2, 81-99.






The concurrent method and other teaching traditions involving code-switching

The mother tongue as an indispensable learning aid

History through the medium of English as a foreign language


1.1 The world of Islam

1.2 Contacts between Arabs and Christians

1.3 The crusades


2.1 Description of a caricature

2.2 Exchange of opinions and arguments



5. Bibliography

The article is concerned with the use of the mother tongue in bilingual content teaching as well as in conventional foreign language classes. The controversy over the mother tongue as a help or a hindrance is examined by way of an analysis of a history lesson taught in English as a foreign language. The article makes the point that brief episodes of switching to the mother tongue can function as a learning aid to enhance communicative competence in the foreign language. Even though the second language remains the working language, the teacher serves as a bilingual dictionary so that the mother tongue becomes an ally of the foreign language. It can be used as a shortcut to communication as well as in language practice. Successful classrooms usually have a dual focus: on content as well as on language. It is part of the teacher's art to know when he can briefly focus on language without cutting off the thread of serious communication.


With regard to the use of L1 in immersion settings, the first question asked by teachers, parents and researchers alike is: How do we make sure that what the students learn through the medium of another language has also been learnt in the mother tongue and is available as active knowledge? In particular, are new scientific terms (such as metabolism, combustion, groundwater enrichment, defenestration of Prague, ...) taught in both languages? There is a need for learners to be made familiar with specific subject languages in their mother tongue.

This article, which is an analysis of a history lesson taught in English as a foreign language in the bilingual section of a German grammar school, does not concentrate on the question of special scientific registers but addresses the wider problem of how to integrate the mother tongue and use it in such a way as to make language teaching more efficient. Are there ways in which the mother tongue can contribute to the communicative success of a lesson?

The article illustrates and interprets these ways by using the transcription of a lesson. Methodologically, the article is thus an instance of what Eisner (1985) calls "educational connoisseurship and educational criticism". Its success must be measured by the degree to which it illuminates the teaching-learning process. It is a personal appreciation, guided by the researcher's experience, theoretical background and value considerations. However, it is not private, but public: The lesson transcript allows the reader to put his own interpretation on the classroom events.

Although our analysis is restricted to one lesson, it is hoped that the processes observed and the conclusions drawn from them are not restricted to content classes and apply to the general question of the the mother tongue as a help or a hindrance. Foreign language teaching, especially in advanced classes where the focus is on foreign literature and civilisation, is not different in kind from content teaching through the medium of an L2.

The concurrent method and other teaching traditions involving code-switching

In classes where minority students are taught subject matter through English as an L2, the "concurrent" technique has been tried out and, apparently, proved a failure. Here "the teacher speaks a little in one language, and then translates what was said into the other language. When this happens, students listen to the message in their own language and pay no intention to the English input. In addition, the teacher does not have to attempt to make the English message more comprehensible by using gestures, realia or paraphrase, since a translation is available" (Krashen, 1985: 81). Wong-Fillmore (1985) illustrates the technique in the appendix to her article and presents evidence confirming that concurrent translation is ineffective.

It is only too obvious that a technique where the teacher says everything twice should fail. It is also hard to see how a teacher could do this over an extended period of time. Has Wong-Fillmore simply picked a bad example? It is not enough to illustrate a technique with a few lines from the classroom. And it seems unjustified to draw far-reaching conclusions as to the use of the L1 from such a coarse-grained and simplistic approach.

When it comes to code-switching or the use the mother tongue in an immersion setting, there are many different techniques and variables involved. The author observed classrooms in Hong Kong and Malta where it was quite a common strategy to use English textbooks which were paraphrased, clarified, amplified and explained in class in the pupils' native language (see also Camilleri, 1995). Although in both countries there seemed to be no official policy regarding language use in the classroom, this mixture was an established teaching tradition and must have been used with some success:

"The most switching strategy observed involved key statements in English followed by expansion, clarification, explanation in Cantonese with final restatement in English. Direct translation was comparatively rare; the general effect was of a spiralling and apparently haphazard recycling of content, which on closer examination proved to be more organised than it appeared. (Johnson and Lee, 1987: 106)

However, this approach has rightfully been viewed with some suspicion. In Hong Kong, at least, the "mixed mode" seems to result from underqualified teachers displaying neither sufficient competence in English nor any knowledge of appropriate methodologies (Jacobson, 1990; Johnson and Lee, 1987). If code-switching is prompted by teachers' language deficits rather than by careful didactic decisions, pupils cannot benefit.

On the other hand, it is all too easy to condemn practices which might be reasonable in a difficult situation. Both in Europe and the USA teaching methods have been devised with closely related languages in mind. Since English, Cantonese and Maltese are linguistically distant languages, bilingual lessons will evidently prove more complicated.

Yet another teaching tradition which is different from the bilingual sections of German grammar schools (where our lesson was conducted) prevails in European international schools which operate with an intake of pupils from various nations, or in evening classes for migrant workers from different countries. Here, some teachers have found it useful, after an initial presentation phase of new material, to give student groups some opportunity to clarify remaining problems among themselves and in their mother tongue. Moreover, in the international school of Düsseldorf where all subjects are taught through English, it is quite common for pupils with the same language background to do their homework collectively and again clarify problems in their L1 (Arth, 1996).

The mother tongue as an indispensable learning aid

There has never been any disagreement about the fact that the native language can be used improperly, i.e. to the detriment of the developing target language. There is definitely a need for maximum use of the L2 in the few teaching hours available. However, there are cases where less can be more. Many authors have thrown the baby out with the bathwater and ignored the facilitative use of the pupils' mother tongue. The belief remains strong that because the target language should be used as much as possible right from the first day, the mother tongue should only be admitted as a last resort. This view of the mother tongue as a fire-brigade or stopgap can now be safely consigned to the dustbin of history. Research on bilingual families has shown over and over again that the young developing bilingual makes skilful use of one language in order to improve his competence in the other language. C.J. Dodson (1967), who himself came from a bilingual family, developed a bilingual method for the foreign language classroom.

His experimental findings, where bilingual techniques proved to be superior to monolingual techniques, were confirmed by other researchers in the Netherlands and Japan (Meijer, 1974; Ishii, 1979; Kasjan, 1994). Butzkamm (1989) developed his "mother tongue as a pathfinder"-hypothesis, which states that learners simply cannot help having recourse to the mother tongue and to knowledge and skills acquired through it. They must establish manifold connections between the mother tongue and the new language. Keeping the languages in watertight compartments is psychologically unsound especially in situations where learners with an established mother tongue are to acquire a foreign language.

The following classroom discourse analysis focuses on just one aspect of how brief episodes of switching to the mother tongue can function as a learning aid to enhance communicative competence in the foreign language.

History through the medium of English as a foreign language

The transcript is a complete lesson recorded in a German grammar school in Hamburg on March 27, 1991. The class has 25 thirteen-year-old girls and boys, who are in their third year of English. The only bilingual content subject offered at this school so early is History, and this lesson occurs towards their first year of History taught through the medium of English. The specific topic of the lesson is - as stated by the teacher - "The war in the Gulf - a holy war?", and forms part of the general topic of "The State and the Church in the Middle Ages". As homework for this lesson, the pupils had to analyse a number of political cartoons and answer the question: "What is the cartoonist's view concerning the war in the Gulf?"

The teacher named the following objectives:

  • to apply students' knowledge (of crusades etc.) and skills to the topic of the Gulf War.
  • to learn how to debate; i.e. how to argue their case, defend their opinions, concede a point ...
  • to become aware of how opinions can be guided by the political and economic self-interests of nations.

The teacher teaches both History and English. He has published articles on the teaching of History through the medium of English and has contributed to in-service training seminars.

For the purposes of this article the transcription of this lesson has been abbreviated. Omissions made will be shown and do not weaken the arguments put forward. A copy of the whole lesson can be obtained from the author.



The pupils have their self-compiled folders in front of them and occasionally look at them, without, however, reading off entire paragraphs.

Teacher: All right. Good morning. And you remember that we talked about the Arab World and the Crusades. And first of all could you once more tell me what you remember about the Moslem World, the Islam, the religion. D.?

D. Mohammed was the prophet of the Moslems.
T. Anything else, A.?
A. When Mohammed was born the Moslems started to count the years, like we the Christians, by saying eh from Christ's eh "Geburt" heißt?
T. birth
A. birth we are now a thousand nine hundred ninety-one after Christ and they are...the Moslems count around 490 or something.
T. Yes. All right. B.
T. Yes, and there's another one, a third one. Do you remember that? J.?
J. The third one was - I think - Jerusalem.
T. Yes, and so this is already interesting eh...how many religions think that Jerusalem is their holy city? B.?
B. Three.
T. Yes, and could you name them? B.?
B. The Jews, the Christians and the Moslems.
T. Yes. And why do the Christians think that Jerusalem is a holy place? D.?
D. Because Christ was ..."gekreuzigt"
T. was crucified
D. Ja.
T. to crucify, all right.(writes the word on the board).

Well, anything else about the Moslems? S.?
S. They have a holy book, the Koran.
T. Mm. A.
A. For the Christians it's a church and for the Moslems a mosque.
T. Yes. A.
A. And they aren't allowed to eat pork.
T. Mm. J.
J. I think for the Jews it's a ... a very important town because eh because eh in the past... there was a very important temple.
T. Yes.
J. Yes, and every, every Moslem must go to Mecca once (mispronunciation) his life.
T. once (corrects pronunciation) in his life
J. Yes, once his life. But they mustn't do it if they have no money.
T. All right. And would you know more, V.?
V. Eh.
T. Oh, you forgot. We will come back in a minute. A.
A. Yes, eh, they have got to pray five times a day. They're praying on such a kind of carpet. And it can happen also that there are microphones or something some ... in Mecca, for example there are microphones, you see. And there's a crier. He's the "Vorbeter", the?
T. The Muezzin.
A. He's the Muezzin. Who's called the Imam.
T. Oh, no.
A. No? That's wrong?
Yes, and it could happen also, let's say, you're driving in a taxi and the taxi-driver is a religious man and suddenly hears the guy who's cried with the microphone. Then the taxi-driver stops and takes his carpet and then - then prays.
T. It may very well happen. Yes, that's right. But just one correction. What is - Who is the Imam? Do you remember, J.? No? So who remembers? Ah, D.?
D. For the Christians it's the priest.
T. Ah, yes, that's right
. Yes, S.
S. If they are rich they have to give money to the poor.
T. Yes, all right. And do you remember the word for that?
S. No.
T. Anybody?
S. Almos?
T. Yes, it's - this comes very close to it, B.
B. Alms.
T. Yes, I hope you remember that.(writes "alms" on the board)
All right. So, oh, oh B., you want to add something.
B. What Y. said, that they want to conquer all the land, all the land. One day the prophet Saladin decreed that there was half-moon over the - over all the land of europe and he thought that was a sign of Allah and that he must conquer all the land.

The first occurrence of what is to form a typical pattern for this lesson, and contributes largely to the progression of the conversation in the foreign language: the pupil who does not know a particular word hesitates, names it in the mother tongue, then asks the teacher for the equivalent. The teacher supplies the word and the student then takes it up himself in order to continue in the foreign language.
Here is a variation of the above pattern. The pupil does not need to ask what the corresponding word in the foreign language is. His hesitation and the fact that he says the word in the mother tongue are signals enough for the teacher to help out. As this pupil had already come to the end of his comment, he obviously does not feel obliged to repeat the supplied word. The teacher does not seem wholly satisfied by this and so repeats the word himself - this time in its infinitive form.
"mustn't" instead of "needn't" is a mistake frequently made by Germans and can lead to misunderstandings. It seems that the teacher overlooked this mistake and did not deliberately ignore it.
The questioning tone and the pause suffice to prompt the teacher to solve the problem.
Initially the teacher had interjected with a clear "No" to the pupil's statement but then held back so he could continue. Even after the pupil has finished speaking, the teacher first appropriates what has just been said in order to then come back to his earlier interjection. Since it regards factual knowledge, the correction is indispensable here.
Although the pupils clearly understand what is spoken about here, the teacher still asks for the appropriate word, thus switching between subject matter and focus on the language. Succinct linguistic corrections were inserted here and there by the teacher prior to this.



T. Mm, and anything else? Can you tell me a bit more about the trades, what kind of trade, what did they trade in? J.
J. I think it's spice.
T. Yes, I. That's one important point.
A. Silk.
T. Yes, Ni.
Ni. I wanted to say the same.
T. Na.
T. Loud, please.
Na. Citrus fruits.
T. Citrus fruit (corrects pronunciation)
Na. Citrus fruit (repeats correct pronunciation)
T. Yes, all right. So trade is one aspect. And we go on a little bit more. In what fields the Arabs were good, what they were good at, St.?
St. Mathematic and
T. Could you answer in a whole sentence.
St. Yes, they were good in mathematic.
T. At. They were good at mathematics.
St.(slightly irritated) At. And I think it ...

T. All right, A. knows.
A. They dr? Drawed very exactly maps.
T. Yes. But we must correct her. What about "to draw" at a past tense? J.
J. drew
T. drew, all right. Could you say that again?
A. They drew a lot of maps and they're very good at ships, they made very good ships.
T. Yes. And you, J.
J. Yes, and they were also good in drawing maps, because they - they sent more sailors on the sea, more mathematics and...
T. mathematicians
J. Ach ja, mathematicians and so they knew much more than the Christians.
T. Mm. J. wants to say something.
J. They were also good at sailing.
T. Well. I think somebody said so. That they were good at sailing. Yes, did you want to add another point?
S. (unintelligible)
T. Pardon, could you say that again? What did you want to say? Say it in German.
S. (long pause. S. remains silent)
T. Oh, we'll come back to that. Perhaps you'll tell us a little bit later.(S. smiles relieved)

Here it is evident that the pupils are also making use of typical classroom phrases which are independent of the theme at hand. In how many classes does one hear: "I wanted to say the same thing / I was going to say that, too"? This is a crucial point in determining whether a genuine foreign language atmosphere has successfully been created.
St., who was mentioned above, is asked to answer in a complete sentence (this is something which the teacher requests for the first time here). The pupil obeys. When he is immediately corrected again, he does repeat the correct "at", although in such an irritated tone that even his neighbour (as can be seen on the video) laughs briefly about it. The pupil complies - he co-operates again but does not get very far. He reflects, the teacher allows him some time, and then asks somebody else. This episode shows just how complex correction and the reaction to being corrected can be. The teacher possibly senses that St. has difficulties with the "good at" construction, and he therefore demands this "answering in complete sentences", which, from what we have seen from the lesson so far, is quite unusual here. The teacher clearly has the best of intentions - probably wishing to point out a common source of error. St. seems to feel - rightly or wrongly - that he is being singled out and so goes on the defensive, without, however, refusing to co-operate further.
In spite of the teacher's correction, another pupil again uses "good in" an obvious German interference.
The extent to which the mother tongue remains present in the minds of the pupils, even during a conversation held in a foreign language, is revealed by the "Ach ja" (= Oh, I see) which slips out here so spontaneously and unconsciously.



D. The Christians did Crusades to Jerusalem
T. made Crusades
D. made crusades to Jerusalem and wanted to (be?) free the Holy Land.
T. Yes, but... B. what did you want to say?
D. Yes, a lot of Moslems had conquered the Holy Land.
T. Well, not the Moslems - there's a certain group of people and they stopped all this. They were Moslems, too. But they were not Arabs. D.?
D. The Turks eh "früher"?
T. Pardon?
D. Was heißt "früher"?
T. Earlier

D. Earlier the Turks were called
T. Was it a good idea now after Urban II had said, "God wills it. You have to go. Your sins will be forgiven." To go to the Holy Land and fight particularly the Turks? S., what's on your mind?
S. No, I think not, because they "unterdrücken"
T. suppress
S. suppressed them, the Turks, after this war. Yes, I think this wasn't good.
(Teacher writes "suppress" on the board)

T. Has anyone got a sponge? Is it two or one "p"? I'm not quite sure. Two. I was quite sure. All right. Yes, J.
J. Yes, when they really wanted to convert very many many people that time then it's not a very good idea to fight against the people who has another
T. who have another
J. who have another religion because then they they don't eh they made themselves the Christians made themselves eh, ene... a lot of enemies and the others had eh were suppressed to take their religion and but really they don't believe in it.

T. Mm, N.
N. I also think like S. und J. but they also can trade with the Moslems and so on.
T. All right. D.
D. After the victory of the Christians the Arabs wanted to have the land again and ...
T. Yes, so it was another war. One war brought another war because they tried to get their land back.

The word "earlier" is asked for here in the same way as "birth" was at the beginning of the lesson. The teacher obviously serves as a bilingual dictionary just like the parents in linguistically mixed marriages, who help their children grow up with two languages.
The word "suppress" is asked for and appears on the blackboard under "crucify" and "alms".
This is the longest comment made by a pupil up to this point. J. has formed his own opinion about the Conversions, which he wishes to share. He wants to differentiate between genuine conversions and those forced upon people, the latter of which he disapproves of. He succeeds in formulating this, even if experiencing difficulties. The teacher could perhaps have appreciated this effort more and expressed the main point of the pupil's train of thought - something along these lines:
"Conversions which are forced upon people are only apparent conversions. More tolerance would probably have made allies rather than enemies out of the defeated. However, rulers and empire-builders often counted on time: what was an enforced conversion in one generation might become the accepted religion of the next, and the norm for still another generation." But should the fact that this idea was not pursued be laid to the door of the bilingual aspect of the lesson?



T. Well, this is what we want to talk about now. And this is why I gave you this cartoon, you remember with the Crusades and could you open it once more. This (pupil holds a sheet up), no that's not the one. It's the one with the - this little one, the crusading knights. Yes, all right, but first of all I would like somebody to describe what is in the picture and then of course your opinion, whether you think it right, whether this... All right? Who can describe it. N., have you got it?
N. Yes, as their badge they've got a drum of oil. They've got a drum of oil on their sweat and
T. on their surcoat
N. surcoat and they want to eh they want to eh "Hintergrund"?
T. in the background
N. In the background
there is a mosque and eh. They want to conquer eh or to free Kuwait of eh from the Iraqis and the drum of oil and showed showed show that they really want to eh to eh
T. get the oil

N. Yes, to get the oil, because they are frightened of eh of that the trade will be stopped when the Iraqis conquered Kuwait.
T. Yes, good. Does anybody want to add anything? We haven't talked about the faces. Ah the crusading knights in this case have certain faces which I think are familiar to you. Mark, can you see any of those faces what - who they are?
N., who takes over the task of describing the caricature, had asked for the word "background" via the mother tongue when he first started to speak. Now he hesitates again, cannot go on, and so receives help with the phrase "get the oil", by means of which he is able to continue. Here the mother tongue is not needed because the teacher guesses what the pupil wants to say and thus anticipates the need for help. After all, it frequently occurs in any formulation process that words fail the speaker no matter what language is being spoken. The crucial thing is that the pupils get the chance to develop their thoughts - and that without leaving the foreign language.


A. So, I think eh the cartoon from Canada is a very good one because all the people of the world wanted - want to live in a world of peace and no war. And they tried to make peace all over the world and now they put on the peace eh bird.
T. Yes, well. It's a dove, a dove.
A. A dove. And now there came a lot of people
T. Well, let's first... I hope you all got the one that A. is talking about. Oh, do not snap your finger, please, J.
J. Yes, and I think this cartoon will show us the the "absurd" (German pronunciation)?
T. the absurdness
J. the absurdness
T. or absurdity
J. Yes, of the slogan or of the sentence "Make peace with war" and
T. Oh, I see. So, if I got you right, J. I'll repeat: You say there is this dove and the dove is like a bomber and the bomber is fitted out with bombs and a dove cannot be a bomber and it shows the absurdity of the slogan "Make peace by war".

J. Yes.
T. Aha, do you? Are there any comments on this? S.
S. Yes, I agree with J. and I think you can't make peace - peace with weapons because, yes
T. Yes, what J. said. Mm. Y.
Y. I like two one.
T. Let's just. Before we come to yours. Is there anybody who wants to say anything to this one from Canada? A.
A. I think it's other (unintelligible) that they use Freedom as a "Vorwand"
T. as a pretext
A. As a pretext. And I think it's bad because that's different.
T. Aha. Is that so different? Doesn't - is it not along the line of J.?
A. Different.
T. Totally different. Freedom as a pretext for what?
A. for the war
T. Oh, all right. D.
D. I want to say what A. said. I think, I understand that this that the Allies said, "We want the war for peace." But I don't like it, the, cartoon
A. Why?
D. Yes, but...oh...eh... Scheiße
T. Why not, D.?
D. I think what the others said, the Allies, the Allies as the others said, it's only a pretext when they go into war, like the Crusades and that they only want to fight or so. That is it.

T. Ah. J. you think that there's a misunderstanding. Yes, please.
J. I don't think that this is the meaning of, of this cartoon, that they only want to fight or something like that. I think it's only the Al-Al-Allies?
T. The Allies. Yes, that's right.
J. The Allies who think, they always thought, "Yes, you do a thing for peace in the world." And in the Middle East. I think you can't do that with weapons and bombs. I think, yes and I...
T. Mm. But. D., you wanted to defend your position because it is not, it hasn't become quite clear.
D. I agree with this, but I think this is a "gerechter"..."gerechter Krieg".
T. a just war
D. A just war
. It is a just war, because, yes. Saddam begins the war and not the Allies and they wanted to be free Kuwait and that's eh
T. That's fair.
D. That's fair.
T. All right. F.
F. I think not that Saddam has... "beginnen"?
T. started
F. started the war against the Allies. The
T. the Allies (correct pronunciation), yes.

F. The Allies have made
T. made or started the war
F. started the first "Schuß"
T. Shot.
F. Shot.
D. An example, please.
T. Well, all right. Yes, you'll get your chance, D. but first of all S.
S. I think that there's no just - just war, because ... yes, because in war die many people and I think the same as F. The Allies have begun the war because they
T. fired the first shot
S. No, they "einmischen"
T. Pardon?
S. "einmischen"
T. They've got involved, They've got involved in this. To get involved.

S. Yes...
T. So what you want to say, S., is they should have left the Arab world, S., I'm talking to you now. They should have left the Arab world alone, this is what you're saying?
S. Yes.
T. Okay. Wait a minute we - one after the other. Yes, but N. has for quite a time already showed that she wants to say something.
N. I also agree with D. because
T. F. listen, it's N.'s turn.
N. I think if it would be a normal politician it would be okay like S. said; but if it is a dictator and you can't tell what he's going to do next and here's - it is better to stop him doing anything...
T. Now, M., well you'll get your chance, J. No doubt about that.
M. I think you can't say who has began the war but because Saddam has "besetzt" - was heißt das jetzt?
T. Yes, oh, I think you know that word.
M. occupied
T. Oh, yes.
M. occupied Kuwait
and the and have made this first eh, first
T. fired the first shot
M. Yes, but I think you can't say that Saddam has begun and you couldn't say that Allies have begun the war.
T. So, you have a position right in the middle. So it's the others. One position that Adam eh Saddam started the war - not Adam - not that far back - Saddam. And then the others said, "No, the - the Allies got involved." And you have a position somewhere in the middle. But now it's your turn, J.
J. Yes, I don't agree with D. and I also don't agree with S. and F. I think you can't say that the Allies has started really the war because the aggressor is Saddam Hussein. And I think you can't say, like S., the Allies "mischt sich ein".
T. got involved
J. got involved in into this problem. I think they have to do that because it's - it's not right that some - one land occupied without really eh eh argument another land and it's only one other thing that is not right is the way they tried to, they tried to free Kuwait. And I think this is the point where you can...
T. Ah, yes. I see. It cannot be. This is your position if I've got it right it cannot be done by war. It should be done by all other means excluding war. But now D.
D. But I - I don't understand F.'s feelings at all, because Saddam gave the first shot then
T. fired the first shot
D. yes, fired the first shot

J. against Kuwait
D. Yes, and that's the war and I think
T. St., St. (Reprimanding tone)
D. Saddam conquered - Saddam conquered Kuwait and that's the war. And then the Amis came - the Allies and and wanted to be free Kuwait, and Saddam started the war because he conquered first Kuwait and then the Allies came.
T. Yes, eh. Y.
Y. I, I have really the same opinion like J.
T. I am of the same opinion.
Y. I think one couldn't say like the like he, F., that that the Allies were really the ones who began and are the ... "Sündenböcke"?
T. are the scapegoat

Y. And I think and you also couldn't say like D. because I think it's better to -to try to talk with Hussein. I think you have to do it with peaceful
T. means
Y. means. And it's better to do that five years and nothing happens than 100,000 deaths of the Allies made and we -we must think you must think the Gulf with the oil is something dreadful and one little drop
T. drop, yes
Y. of oil make one million litres of water (gestures)
T. spoils
Y. spoils
T. spoils one million litre of water

Y. And I think they had should tried
T. should have tried
Y. should have tried it longer when they didn't they didn't do the embargo very carefully
T. strictly
Y. strictly. But I think when - after they did all this and tried everything what this is to do to "meid" - avoid a war and when that all doesn't help they could - they must make war. But it wasn't like this. It was not...
T. And thank you. S.
S. I think both people were right at some time - because you can see it on both sides.
T. from two sides
S. from two sides because you must eh say where's the war because some people say the Iraq made the war because he occupied Kuwait. But I think the Allies began
T. began?
S. started the war and not the Iraq. I think the Iraq made perhaps that the Allies started the war. So you must say where began the war.
T. You have to define well what is the beginning of the war. Is it Saddam who occupies Kuwait or is it the first shot that was fired by the Allies? All right.
S. I thought, you've got to see it from both sides.
T. Yes. Well, this I think is a good oh perhaps but I see you really want to say something. This is a good summary of what we have said so far
. But N. really wants to say something and I really can't stop him.
N. Yes, I think.
T. Could you listen to N.?
N. I think, I think it is wrong when the Allies prevented - when they would prevent the war. And I think it's right to got involved.
T. That was right you think, N.?
N. But I don't think like Y. because you can't really talk with a dictator. They also tried to do this embargo or what it is.
T. Tried this embargo.
N. this embargo. And it didn't work out, so it didn't work out because some countries like Jordan and so they did - they didn't bring
S. They didn't do the embargo very concentrated -
N. Yes, but some countries still did didn't do it. And what I also think is it's Saddam Hussein who started the war because the Allies gave him a chance
T. a chance (corrects pronunciation)
N. a chance to get out of Kuwait. And he didn't. He stayed in there.
T. eh, F.
F. I
T. J. - F. - J. and then D. and I think then we stop because we really have got some kind of a - I like what S. said. She said, "It very much depends on the point of view." But you have your say, J. Oh, I said F. Sorry.
F. I didn't mean that the Allies are a scapegoat or "Sündenböcke" because I mean they - they haven't tried it longer with embargo and
T. So this is what Y. said, you agree with him. They should have tried it longer and stricter.
F. But I don't mean that they are a scapegoat or so.
T. Mm. Yes, J.
J. I think it's not a good - again, the Allies are probably not a good "Beispiel"?
T. example
J. example, yes, (...) Kuwait is bombed, it was bombed very hardly
T. heavily
J. heavily, yes, and and
T. So you want to stress your position again that war doesn't solve any problems. But it creates new problems and, D.
D. But what should they do when they talked half a year ... and if they talk longer maybe Saddam has got the "Atombombe"
T. An atomic bomb
(Protest from T.: "Be quiet!")
J. Das ist es ja wie schnell ... In the seventy years Saddam had the atom "Atomreaktor"
T. atomic reactor
J. Yes, but
T. or nuclear plant. Do you know the word "nuclear"?
J. the Israelis had "bum krach weg" (Gesturing with his hand. Fellow-students laugh. J. looks around seeking for help.) eh "zerstören"?
T. destroyed
J. destroyed and they talked half a year and I think that's enough. The Allies, they "stellten Ultimatum" and
T. They set an ultimatum. So, what your point is, D. if I get you right, is talking doesn't get you anywhere.
T. So I must really go on. Because now we have... S.?
S. I think it wasn't right that the Ira-
T. Iraqis
S. Iraqis chose Kuwait because there the people haven't to do with the (Iraqis)
T. nothing to do with the Iraqis, you mean.
(Bell for break time)
T. So, S. you agree that
S. (I want to say?) something to D. that the nuclear bomb (scheme?)
T. the nuclear bomb or the atomic bomb
D. it's the only argument for war and there are many arguments against war.
T. Mhm. Well you would like to go on?
S. Yes.
T. Well, we'll do that next time. But...thank you very much.
A. and J. speak about a further caricature, this one taken from a Canadian newspaper. The teacher now summarizes both utterances and, in doing so, makes them accessible to the class. This is necessary because - in spite of the drawing lying in front of all the pupils, in which a dove is portrayed as a bomber plane - ; what A. is actually trying to get at when he says "they put on the peace bird", remains incomprehensible. However, the paraphrase "peace bird" is understood by everybody, so that recourse to the mother tongue is not necessary here. Perhaps a reference to the olive branch in the dove's beak could have been included, such as: "The olive branch, too is a sign of peace - look at the saying 'hold out an olive branch'."
"I want to say what A. said" sounds clumsy. Perhaps something like "Can I follow on from what A. said?" would be more appropriate. Such formulaic phrases are helpful for debating and should be introduced step by step, such as the phrase "I was going to say the same".
For the first time in the lesson (with the interjection "seljuk" above, which was more like a prompt), a pupil's utterance is followed by a teacher's remark but by another pupil's contribution. This will only occur once more although the students are talking with and arguing against one another throughout. Could the teacher have held back a bit more? My impression is "No". The pupils do not really need the teacher so much as a prompter any more, rather they need him as someone who verbally smoothes out, orders and puts right their contributions.
D. is probably surprised that A. spontaneously interrupts, viewing his "why?" as an attack to be counteracted at once. He begins to stammer, and his complete frustration at having to continue speaking in English under such pressure breaks through. Only when the teacher calmly asks him again is he able to carry on.
"A just war" is (after "absurdity" and "pretext") the third central term in the discussion which is obtained via the mother tongue. The same pattern occurs further on with the expression "start the war" or "fire the first shot". It seems clear from these instances that the mother tongue is an absolute necessity for the pupils to clarify their ideas and get them across to the class. In cases such as linguistically mixed classes, where the mother tongue cannot quickly intervene, the discussion will invariably suffer and degrade, especially when the students cannot rely on a text to support them but only have the drawings (and naturally the caption which is an integral part of the caricature) as a basis for expressing their opinions. This means that they must in fact speak "freely".
The teacher, trying to follow the train of thought, again guesses what the pupil wishes to say. This type of anticipatory help is, however, less frequent than that triggered off by a mother tongue insertion as documented in the following utterance.
This is the second time that a pupil directly interrupts without the teacher having spoken in between. The request for an example is probably again meant as a critical objection. The teacher, however, already sees several people with their hands up and holds D. back: it is not his turn yet.
Here the teacher could have pointed out the term "military intervention", particularly since it is used in the same sense in German and is, therefore, easy to learn.
The discussion is gradually reaching its heated stage. The teacher has already had to curb temperaments more than once. "Was heißt das jetzt?" (= Oh! How do you say that again?) betrays the impatience of the pupil wishing to articulate his view but having run into vocabulary difficulties. The teacher remains composed, purposely refuses to give the English word which he expects the pupil to retrieve from his memory, and thus, as it turns out, handles the situation successfully.
Here the teacher seems to have misunderstood the pupil. What he probably wanted to say was that the form of intervention is disputable, not suggest the exclusion of military intervention altogether. It becomes increasingly difficult for pupils and teacher to outline their complex positions as they are moving beyond a mere "for" or "against" argument or a simple taking of sides.
"Amis" = German abbreviation for "Americans". The pupil corrects himself and uses "allies" instead.
Y.'s contribution brings to light once again that help asked for with or without using the mother tongue ("Sündenböcke" leading to "scapegoat" versus "means") makes no difference to the quality of the conversation. What counts is that linguistic help is clear and instantaneous and can immediately be put to use.
Y.'s hand movement expresses something like: "Now how do you say that?". It is as though he is trying to beckon the word through the waving motion of his hand. Instead of "spoil", "pollute, pollution" could also have been offered.
A further variant of the interaction between the two languages: the German word ("meiden") clearly comes a bit to quickly to the tip of the pupil's tongue, since he immediately follows it up with the English equivalent.
Again the teacher brings the discussion to a head. It is, after all, a question of definition. As in marital arguments, it's all about the "punctuation" of what's happening ("You started it..."). (Watzlawick et al. 1969)
The teacher sees lots of pupils with their hands up. He feels the end of the lesson drawing near and it is probably for this reason that he does not let some students completely finish what they are saying. So there is no longer any opportunity to record the results of the discussion on the blackboard as the teacher had intended to do.
The word "scapegoat", which was introduced only a few minutes ago, is now freely used.
The teacher clearly wants to finish off but feels compelled to let S. speak again Another pupil, propping up her arm, has been waiting her turn for a considerable time. Later, the participants of the discussion even ignore the bell for break-time.


This lesson suggests to us that the mother tongue can be used in such a way that it becomes an ally of the foreign language. The path of virtue, i.e. the functional use of the foreign language in the lesson, does not need to be abandoned. The second language is firmly in the saddle as the working language. The pupils who, on encountering difficulties with vocabulary, ask for the foreign language equivalent by giving the expression in the mother tongue, behave in the same way as many natural bilinguals in families where the two languages are spoken.

Code-switching is an integral part of the speech of bilinguals (Butzkamm, 1989: 22ff.). The mother tongue does not take over but is a necessary conversational lubricant. Even if it was possible to banish it from the classroom, it could never be banished from the pupils' minds. Used properly and systematically, but on the whole quite sparingly and unobtrusively, it is clearly not a last resort, but a natural short-cut. In this lesson, it is a quick and effective learning aid. It provides the most immediate and direct access to the foreign language expression needed to carry on the conversation and to get one's message across. The pupils have no qualms about seeking their teacher's assistance through German, and the teacher's helpful responses give them confidence. Conversely, it would probably undermine the pupils' confidence if the mother tongue was made a taboo or if the teacher did not speak the pupils' mother tongue.

Also, it should not be overlooked that it is the pupils who code-switch. Their code-switching has the definite function of seeking assistance and is not prompted by laxity on their part. The teacher uses the students' L1 only as a "bilingual dictionary" to respond to students' requests. So we must keep in mind who code-switches, when and where and for what purposes. There certainly are less disciplined students and teachers who code-switch too readily or even unconsciously. This permissiveness which crowds out the foreign language whenever the talk becomes "serious" (Searle 1969, 57) is an all too well known phenomenon of bad schools and tired teachers.

It could be argued that the use of the mother tongue as evidenced in the above transcript is only typical of, and helpful in, phases where students discuss a point freely. It is clear that the teacher cannot pre-teach words that might appear in message-orientated discussions where student utterances are essentially unpredictable. However, there are also transcripts of immersion classes where similarly effective code-switching takes place in teacher-centred presentation phases. (Drexel-Andrieu, 1990)

It could also be argued that the type of effective code-switching illustrated in this lesson is restricted to beginners' classes. However, in advanced classes there, too, is a need for the right expression, the one that hits the nail on the head, such as "scapegoat" in this lesson. In our hunt for the mot juste a mother tongue phrase will often come to mind, and communication could be far less effective if we stick to clumsy paraphrases in the foreign language.

Tudor (1987, 272) provides evidence for this. When his adult learners of English prepared articles from Time or Newsweek for discussion in their evening classes, they were also given an article from the German press on the same topic to work with: "The L1 input thus served to stretch learners' L2 productive abilities in a tightly constrained manner, setting goals which, to be achieved, required the active expansion of L2 resources. This factor was apparent in comparing the specialized oral presentation of students who used L1 materials as input and those of students who, as a result of lack of time or interest, did not. The latter were clearly marked by a lesser degree of precision and clarity. These students were working within their existing L2 competence, which naturally was not always adequate for the expression of complex ideas in a precise way." The discussions became richer both in content as well as in form. It was a way of overcoming learning plateaus in advanced learners.

Things might be different where the sociolinguistic situation differs, for instance where languages of unequal power are concerned. When Clyne et al. (1995: 158) and other authors advise against code-switching, they may well be right in the context to which they refer. A recent overview of types of bilingual education from a sociolinguistic perspective (Garcia 1997) illustrates the diversity of situations and corresponding pedagogical approaches. The same author also points out that "code-switching is certainly not always helpful in classrooms where bilingualism and biliteracy are the goal." (Garcia 1993: 31). However, it is my contention that all further language learning is, in a very basic sense, indebted to the first language. Mere exposure to L2 is not sufficient for learners to be able to internalise and process the data. Didactic ingenuity in by-passing the mother tongue is all right. But similar ingenuity in exploiting the mother tongue to promote a second language should equally be welcome.


Our lesson analysis does not "prove" anything in a strict sense but rather makes certain things appear plausible:

It has been stated that people learn what they practise, i.e. by actually doing the thing that has to be learned. People become free in the use of a language only through the free use of the language. In other words: One learns to discuss through discussing. Communication is not the problem, communication is the solution. In terms of communication, the lesson proves a big success.

The author nevertheless feels that the exclusive focus on communication does not achieve the desired aim on its own. In the pressure of the event, the teacher often cannot unravel what the students want to say - neither can the fellow-students. The teacher is likely to be the last person to give up trying to understand what one of the pupils is trying to say. In order to encourage communication between the students themselves and to prevent exclusive dialogues between one pupil and the teacher, communication could be complemented by well-directed language work moving slightly beyond the discussion (i.e. beyond just teacher's corrections and assistance with vocabulary) - particularly since the pupils do not have a text to support them in this lesson. Successful classrooms have a dual focus: on content, ideas, persons as well as on language. It is part of the teacher's art to know when he can (and should) interrupt a discussion and briefly focus on language without cutting off the thread of serious communication. The problem for the teacher is to find the right balance. To give three examples:

  1. For pronunciation training, the names of the countries could be repeated in chorus: Israel, Israelis; Iraq, Iraqis etc. This could take less than a minute.

  2. Some collocations could be dictated to the pupils either before or after the lesson:

    ultimatum: deliver, give, issue; get, receive; defy, ignore an ultimatum.

    embargo: impose an e. against/on; enforce an e. strictly/rigidly; break an e.

    In some cases, it can be helpful for the teacher to ask for a good translation. It is evident that some twelve- or thirteen-year-olds are unsure about the proper mother tongue collocation: ein Embargo verhängen, aufheben, durchbrechen, mit einem Embargo belegen usw.

    It might also be possible to integrate such language work in the very discussion. However, when the teacher shifts the focus on the medium, he must guard against the flow of communication grinding to a halt. It will always be a difficult decision to take.

  3. A collection of phrases useful in discussions could be introduced in the regular English classroom: "I'm not saying that ... All I'm saying is ..."; I entirely / partly agree with you, but ..."; "The question is whether ...". The history teacher in turn should know what was introduced and practised in the English lesson so that in his lessons he can insist on the use of such phrases when a suitable situation presents itself. A strong case can be made for short but intensive bilingual medium-oriented interventions which should not alter the emphasis laid on the presentation of the topic and the discussion arising from it.

The American sociologist Robert K. Merton, to whom we owe the theory of the self-fulfilling prophesy, once wrote: Whatever is, is possible. Whatever was once reality, is always humanly possible. In view of this, the transcript of this lesson should encourage attempts at bilingual lessons in different school subjects. More is learned from one single success than from multiple failures. A single success proves it can be done (Merton, 1957).

5. Bibliography

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Butzkamm, W. (1989, 21993) Psycholinguistik des Fremdsprachenunterrichts. Tübingen: Francke.

Bickley, V. (ed) (1990) Language use, language teaching and the curriculum. Hong Kong: ILE.

Caldwell, J. (1994) Bayswater Revisited. A diachronic analysis of attention to the development of productive skills in a bilingual education programme. Aberystwyth Occasional Papers 2, 1-35.

Camilleri, A. (1995) Bilingualism in Education. The Maltese Experiment. Heidelberg: Groos.

Clyne, M. et aT. (1995) Developing Second Language From Primary School: Models And Outcomes. Deakin: The National Languages and Literacy Institute of Australia.

Drexel-Andrieu, I. (1990) Bilinguale Geographie. In: Wode, H. and Burmeister, P. (eds). Erfahrungen aus der Praxis bilingualen Unterrichts. Ausgewählte Beiträge vom Symposium "Mehrsprachiger Unterricht in Europa", Kiel, November 1990, Kiel: Universität, 34-39.

Eisner, E. W. (1985) The Art of Educational Evaluation. A Personal View. London: The Falmer Press.

Garcia, Ofelia (1993) Understanding the societal role of the teacher in transitional bilingual classrooms: lessons from sociology of language. In: Kondag, Koen (ed.): Bilingual Education in Friesland: Facts and Prospects. Leeuwarden: Gemeenschappelijk Centrum voor Onderwijsbegeleiding in Friesland, 25-37.

Garcia, Ofelia (1997) Bilingual Education. In: Coulmas, Florian (ed.): The handbook of sociolinguistics (Blackwell handbooks in linguistics, 4), Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 405-420.

Ishii, T. et aT. (1979) Experiment on the Acquisition and Retention of Sentence Meaning and the Imitation Performance. Journal of the Kansai Chapter of the Japan English Language Education Society, 3.

Johnson, R. K. and Lee, P. T. M. (1987) Modes of Instruction: Teaching Strategies and Student Responses. in: Lord, R. and Cheng, H.N.T. (eds). Language Education in Hong Kong. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 99-121.

Kasjan, A. (1994) Notbehelf oder positive Lernhilfe? Zur Auseinandersetzung um die Rolle der Muttersprache bei der Semantisierung im Fremdsprachenunterricht. Kairos 32, Fukuoka (Japan): Kairos Gesellschaft für Germanistik, 86-105.

Krashen, S. B. (1985) The Input Hypothesis. Longman.

Merton, R. K. (1957) Social Theory and Social Structure. New York: Free Press.

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Wong-Fillmore, T. (1985) When does teacher talk work as input? in: Gass, S. M. and Madden, C. G. (eds) Input in Second Language Acquisition. (Series on Issues in Second Language Research). Cambridge: Newbury House Publishers.

Watzlawick, P., Beavin, J. H. and Jackson, D. D. (1969) Menschliche Kommunikation. Formen, Störungen, Paradoxien. Bern: Huber.